SHERIDAN — It’s early on a Saturday morning and the words from Peter Gabriel’s song “In Your Eyes” stream from the kitchen.
Classic rock and Top 40 tunes will fill the room until patrons arrive. Voices and rattling pots and pans add to the cacophony of early morning sounds as the smell of meals being cooked swell up and waft across the empty dining room. In the kitchen is the team that makes it possible for the Sheridan Senior Center to serve meals 365 days a year.
“My day starts at 5 a.m.,” cook and weekend shift manger, Shawn Ulery, father of three young children said.
Ulery has 28 years experience in food service but this is his first time in a kitchen for a nonprofit agency. “The pace is different from other kitchens. In other kitchens, you serve a variety of meals but here you serve only one.”
Ulery celebrated his one- year employment anniversary at the Senior Center this week.
Everyone’s day on the Senior Center kitchen team starts early including the weekend and holiday shift crew of five employees. The weekend crew includes one cook, two kitchen helpers, a dishwasher and the home-delivered meals coordinator.
Sheridan hosts one of the few senior centers in Wyoming that serve meals 365 days. Although with years of food service experience and training, the team this particular Saturday morning is a young one in terms of employment at the Senior Center. Ulery is the senior staff member with one year at the center.
“This is the best kitchen I’ve worked in over 28 years,” Ulery said.”The staff is fun and there’s no drama. Everyone knows what needs to be done and they get it done.”
Ulery, who is known for sporting wild printed scrub pants, has 12 years experience waiting tables. When his work is done, he likes to step out of the kitchen and mingle with diners.
Former National Guardsman, Ferdinand Nelson preps salads, prepares meats and helps package the meals for the home deliveries. Nelson works three part-time jobs in food service including as a member of the Senior Center’s weekend kitchen team. “Everyone works well together,” he said.
The weekend crew works as part of a larger team in preparing meals for the public at the Senior Center. Crews prep for the kitchen team following the next day and everyone focuses on the three-month menu plan analyzed and developed months previously to meet nutritional guidelines required under funding through the Older Americans Act.
“One of the things that surprised me about the Senior Center meals is how much of everything is made from scratch,” Ulery said.
Currently, the senior center provides a casual Saturday meal and a more Sunday-dinner-type meal on Sundays. In response to requests from many of the persons who dine at the Senior Center, the nonprofit began serving breakfast one Saturday each month.
Although the Senior Center is open to the public, most of the people it serves are age 60 or older. Diners must register with the Senior Center for the center to receive supplemental funding from the Older Americans Act. The funding helps to offset the cost of food but does not cover the entire cost. Once registered, diners may make a voluntary contribution of $4.50 per meal. Unregistered diners are charged $7.50 per meal.
Weekend kitchen helper Sandy Levi has several courses in culinary school under her belt and has been a member of the Senior Center weekend kitchen team for two months. “They’re really good to work with here and definitely know what they’re doing.”